Discovering a new game plan

Their passion for sport helped Uruguayan sweethearts Luciana Garcia Genta and Ignacio Sande build a new life in Invercargill.
Discovering a new game plan

Luciana Garcia Genta had her life all planned out. She and her partner Ignacio Sande were going to stay in New Zealand for a year or two, then return to Uruguay so she could build her career as a PE teacher.

Instead, she’s taken to New Zealand like a fish to water – and five-and-a-half years later, she and Ignacio still live in Invercargill.

The couple came here in 2010 so Luciana could work as head coach for Phoenix Synchro, Southland’s synchronised swimming club. She was perfectly qualified, having swum competitively since she was 10 and later representing Uruguay in synchronised swimming.

Luciana and Ignacio had met at university in Uruguay and were living in Barcelona while finishing their studies: for Luciana a Masters in Talent Development and High Performance, and for Ignacio a double Masters in Team Sports, and Talent Development and High Performance.

One day she saw the job advertised on a Canadian website. “Twelve hours after applying, I had a job offer saying, ‘This job is available for you if you can be here in a month’s time.’” She was lucky, she says, because Ignacio was extremely supportive. “I was doubting, ‘Oh, shall we go? Shall we stay? What shall we do?’ and he said, ‘Let’s go. It’s a great opportunity.’”

Ignacio was working as a coach in a football (soccer) academy as well as studying, so life was hectic. “I was lucky that I had a full-time job in football, and I could study, but there was no time to do anything else. I wanted a change,” he says. Once Luciana accepted the job, she turned to Google. “I loved what Invercargill looked like, but on Google Maps the streets were completely empty, so I was like, ‘Do they have human beings there?’” she laughs.

The couple packed one suitcase between them, and Luciana turned 25 the day they arrived here.

People from the club welcomed them, helped them find a place to rent and also to find furniture. “Getting settled here was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. They also helped my partner to get job interviews and to try to find a job. Southern people are awesome,” she smiles.

Luciana immediately started coaching synchronised swimming (where members of a team perform coordinated movements in time to music, in the water) for Phoenix Synchro, and the national team. At the beginning of 2015, she moved to Sports Southland to work as a coach development advisor – though she’s still involved with Phoenix Synchro.

Finding work was much more difficult for Ignacio, as there weren’t many jobs in soccer when he arrived. He got some part-time work teaching young children gymnastics, and temporary work at the soccer club. “I was enjoying the life and the people, and learning a little bit of English, but it was tough.

Some moments I think, ‘Well, when am I going to work?’” he says. “If you come to New Zealand to try to grow in your professional area, you have to come with the right job. If not, it’s quite tough just trying to find your place.”

Ignacio’s English skills were not as strong as Luciana’s, either. “One of the big issues was the language, because English and Spanish are nowhere the same – plus the Southland accent is even harder to understand,” he says. “I was lucky that I knew some football language, no? So it’s just ‘run’, ‘stop’!”

One of the big issues was the language, because English and Spanish are nowhere the same.

Happily, late last year, he got a full-time job as the development manager for Football Southland.

It took time to adjust to the shops closing at 5pm, and the smaller number of people around the city compared to Barcelona. “Our day-to-day life is really quiet. But we like it because that’s the kind of life quality we want to have. It’s not being busy all day and super-stressed,” Luciana says.

“Also we have so many different things to do: driving two hours to Queenstown, visiting the Catlins, or going for a bike ride, a bush walk or a beach walk. We love it. That’s probably one of the things that made us stay for longer than we planned.”

They don’t really miss foods from back home, although Luciana says her favourite mate tea is much more expensive and only available in Auckland. They do miss spending time with old friends and family, now they do have free time – but the quality of life here convinced them to become residents three years ago.

Ignacio advises other migrants that it may be more difficult to find a job here if you work in a specialist field. “Maybe in the bigger cities there are more opportunities, but also more competition, you know? In Invercargill, to work in football there were only two full-time jobs, and people are really stable in them,” he says. Luciana, however, has no hesitations. “If you’re thinking of moving to New Zealand, don’t think any more. Just do it.”

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